Writing 101: Write What You Know?

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Do you remember the first piece of writing advise you were ever given? I do.

“Write what you know.”

And, I do understand the point. The blank page can be scary. It can be intimidating and frustrating and feel like there is so much to do. It can be overwhelming, so someone told me to write what I knew. Write from the familiar voice inside my head. Write where I am comfortable with what I already know.

After a few years of dreaming of writing and trying to write what I know, I’ve come to two separate but equally relevant conclusions:

1. my life is not all that interesting.

Now, before you get all bothered and tell me that my life is not that boring, let me talk about what I mean for a minute.  My life is crazy busy. I do a lot of things I truly love. I am happy, well-adjusted and do my best to try and be joyful. My life is FULL. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I work full-time (plus, depending on the week). I read, I write, I play games. I volunteer. I walk my dog. I travel. I take vacations. I believe in trying new things. I live life to the full. But, my normal, everyday life? Not really worth writing about. I have been blessed with few tragedies and am stifled by few huge successes. What I know is deep. I am educated, and believe deeply that a person should never stop learning. But all those bits and pieces? They don’t make up the story I want to write. They are the story I want to tell with my life, for sure. But what I want to get lost in and write about? It’s not what I know…it’s what I want to know.

2. writing only what I know would be undeniably limiting.

See above. If everyone only wrote what they knew, there would be no science-fiction. There would be no fantasy. There would be no questioning of God, the universe and the stories around us. There would be no make believe. And, as an avid lover of fiction and writing that makes me want to believe in other worlds, my favorite works are often ground not in someone’s reality, but in their imagination. I believe if you’re writing non-fiction, you should tread carefully and write what you know – or what you’re willing to learn. But, when it comes the majority of writing, explore, envision, create new worlds. Look at the things you love about the world and incorporate them. What do you not like? How can you make it better? Write on, dear ones. Write the words and the worlds you can only imagine.

Throughout this series of blog posts, I will be sharing what works for me as a writer – and what doesn’t. I will be exploring my own renewed passion for writing and hopefully be giving you snippets and glimpses into the worlds I am creating. It’s going to be a fun journey!

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Book or Movie: The Fault in Our Stars

I usually try to avoid anything “trendy” when it comes to talking and writing, but really…this book and this movie…OH THE FEELS. So many emotions all at once.

First, the book:

The Fault in Our StarsIf I’m being completely honest, I didn’t even really want to read this book. I mean, it’s a book about teenagers dying of cancer. I just wasn’t interested. But then the world (all my book-loving friends, anyway) just wouldn’t stop talking about it and how amazing it was. So, I picked up a copy at the bookstore, mostly because there were close to 100 reservations at the library and I am, by all accounts, a little irrational when it comes to books. And it took a whole 4 pages for me to be hooked.

John Green is a gifted writer, for one thing. He somehow manages to balance unquestionable eloquence with honest, real conversation. It could seem flowery and over the top, but it doesn’t. There are probably three dozen quotes from the book that I would hang on my walls.

“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“Do the thing you’re good at. Not many people are lucky enough to be so good at something.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Seriously, they can just go on and on! In the middle of a tragic story, there is such a celebration of what it truly means to be alive.

 

And then I heard they were making a movie of by beloved book.

And everything inside of me screamed “NO!!!!!”

But, I saw it anyway.

The fault in our stars movie posterAt first, I kinda wanted to hate it. I wanted to be disappointed by it. I wanted it to do a disservice to the book I loved. Not because I wanted it to fail, but because I was sure there was no way it could succeed. And then, as the date got closer, I wanted it to succeed. I wanted it to be huge. I wanted everyone to know the story, even if they didn’t want to read the books. I wanted to celebrate Augustus and Hazel Grace and their love; their story; their little infinity.

So, I went to the movie. There were brilliant moments. The dialogue, much lifted right from the book, didn’t come off as cheesy, because it was delivered with wry smiles and honest tears in the most important places. It didn’t shy away from Hazel’s cannula, which I know was a big deal for John Green and the entire team behind the story. It didn’t make light of childhood cancer, but it didn’t make it the center of the story.

Because, whether movie of book, the story is about first loves and first heartbreaks. The main characters just happen to have cancer, too. The story is about living well. The story is about dying well. The story is about embracing this moment, right now, because it might be the only one you have.

I cried like a baby through the last 1/3 of the movie. I cried for Augustus and Hazel. I cried for my friends and family who have lived with, loved with and fought through cancer. I cried for little infinite moments that I had taken for granted.

So, which is better? Movie or book?  This quote sums it up nicely:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

The movie is maybe one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I have ever seen. But still, the book. Always the book.

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Adventures in Writing

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I’m usually, at best, a sporadic blogger. I have the best of intentions, but those seem to fall by the wayside as my real, and very busy, life takes over. Then, I get discouraged because I haven’t created the online community I dream of having and I feel like no one reads my blog.

so….I’ve joined Jeff Goins in a 31 day blogging challenge to make my blog an intentional part of my life. Over the next 30 days, I will be blogging about the stuff I love and the stuff that makes me tick. I will be challenging my readers to share their stories and encourage other bloggers trying to make a name for themselves in this same journey.

Look for blogs from me like:

  • Make a Difference Monday – #madmlinkup – it’s pretty much the only blog I’m guaranteed to do every week
  • Writing what you know…and what you don’t know.
  • Book reviews
  • Book to movie adaption reviews – spoiler – there are very few good ones
  • Creating online community
  • Surprises galore!

I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think it will be a healthy way for me to be disciplined about writing regularly and will stretch my creative side a little more. My friend Chris Holmes recently published a book of encouragement and posts updates on his facebook page and blog regularly. As I was thinking about whether or not to do this challenge, this was what he posted last night:
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…and that pretty much sums up my writing life to this point. It’s time to be intentional and do something about it. So, here’s to 31 days of adventures in writing!

 

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Time to Confess

 

 

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It seems almost funny and fitting that the challenge issued as part of the 500 Words a Day challenge today is about confessing something. I wanted to just start writing again without addressing the “elephant” in my writing-world, but that was obviously not to be. So, here is what I am confessing:

I haven’t written in over a week.

At first it was just a day off. Then it was a weekend. Then a week. Here is the thing, though. I have thought about it every single day. I have opened my blog a few times and have even started several blogs. I have opened a couple different Word documents. I have read and re-read the introduction and outline of my book. I have puttered here and there with words, but I have not really written.

And, like all habits that are at that place of either forming or breaking, my writing sits. Every day I would look at the Facebook group. I would feel guilty for not writing. I would feel ashamed for what I was doing instead of writing. So, I kind of checked out.

I let my jealousy toward people succeeding at this journey get the better of me.

I let the fact that other people have bigger stories take the place of my story.

I stopped reading the blogs I loved because they were writing and I wasn’t.

I would see comments on Facebook posts and blogs and I would be frustrated that their writing is going so much better than mine.

I let the fact that I let one day turn into two turn into five turn into seven affect how I feel about my fellow writers.

That last one made me feel even more small, petty and less part of a community. Instead of loving the success of my friends, I was instead feeling sorry for myself and my lack of discipline and time management. And then the spiral continued. Today I decided I would write. The words are coming, but they’re hard. It’s like starting all over again, but without the excitement. Instead of being excited about writing, I’m confessing that I haven’t been a very good member of the writing community for the last week. I am sorry. I love the encouragement I get from my writing friends, but instead of celebrating their successes I have spent the last week wallowing in my own self-doubt.

Even writing this blog made me feel a little bad about what I was writing. I don’t want to lose the community that I’ve slowly started establishing. But, these days and weeks are why I have to write this and put it out there. Because these moments are just as real as the successes.

Sometimes confession is good for the soul. Sometimes it just reveals that, despite your best intentions, you are human and still fall prey to the insecurities and…sheer humanness that exists in us all.

Here’s to writing again, as painful, humbling, stretching and life-changing as every word can be.

500 Words a Day…Challenge Update

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It sounded so easy. 500 words a day. Given how quickly I tend to write, especially first drafts, this was not a huge commitment. At least I didn’t think so. The reality, however, nine days in, is very different. So, today’s blog post is dedicated to the four big expectations versus reality moments of this challenge for me so far.

Expectation One: I would write at least 500 words a day in the same manuscript.

Reality: I have written 500 words a day on all but one day, but they have not been on just one thing. I have written the opening words to my non-fiction book, a partial chapter outline of that book, several blog entries, a long-winded diatribe in my journal, several creative writing exercises from the 642 Things to Write About book, and several really bad poems. I thought at the end of January I would have 15,000 words toward my book done. It’s not looking like that at all. The non-fiction, I’m finding, it going to require a lot more thought that I had anticipated (not to mention research and surveys).

Expectation Two: Having a goal to write would make it easier to get up in the morning.

Reality: It’s cold and snowy and downright gross in Indiana right now. And, I have a comfortable bed and really enjoy sleeping. So, getting up early has simply not happened. You can call it lack of focus or determination or whatever you want, but the reality is I like the fact that I don’t have to get up early. I am simply not a morning person. And, on the mornings where I’ve tried to get up and write right away, I just stare at the blank page like it’s the enemy. There is no excitement in writing like that for me.

Expectation Three: I have a lot to say, so the words would come easy.

Reality: Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve really even focused on writing, even just a little bit. But, the words are not coming easy some days. Some days it’s like pulling teeth to get even a hundred words out that I don’t want to delete from the world forever. Part of this challenge is not to edit too much;  and that is really REALLY hard for me.

Expectation Four: I would realize I’d rather write than do a lot of the other things that take up my time.

Reality: This is about half-true. I would rather write than a lot of the things that I do that are not things I choose to do. If I could spend the eight-plus hours a day I sit in my office at work writing, I would love that (I think). But the reality is that writing is not my job, it’s my passion. So, “working writing in” during the few hours I have that are not at work is sometimes difficult. Because I do love to read and I love to spend time with friends and I love to actually talk to my husband and play with my dog. My friend Amy said it best when she reminded me that to really take this writing thing seriously, some things would have to go. I think I’m still really trying to work through that idea in my head and heart, even though I totally know that it is true.

So, here it is day nine. I’ve written approximately 4,000 words over the last nine days. I just pray a few of them make a difference.

When Words Won’t Come…

The Blank Page

There are days, even now, when the words just don’t want to come. I look at the blank page for hours, back and forth, wondering what to say, wondering what will matter. I open blog posts and write challenging topics that I think will inspire me and my readers. And they sit here, staring at me. Days like today, I don’t know what to write. And when I want to write more than I ever have, the words don’t come.

And then, suddenly, a moment of inspiration…

The silence of the blank page.

The promise of the memories it will hold.

Anything is possible.

Any world can be real.

A million possible combinations.

Twenty-six letters that change the world.

Strung together in nonsense.

They suddenly make sense.

Anything is possible now.

A fresh, new world awaits.

Have you ever looked at the blank page and wondered what it could mean, what it could hold? Have you ever thought of all the letters and combinations and words that make up your experiences and your stories? The blank page is like a breath of fresh air and a storm brewing at the same time. There is so much it could be, but sometimes I’m rendered completely immobile by the power that the page holds.

Some days I don’t feel like I could ever live up.

I don’t feel like I am worthy.

The blank page mocks me.

Wants me to fail.

My success is dependent on defacing its beauty.

Pouring my heart onto the page.

Marring it with my story.

Changing what it means.

Who it affects.

Why it exists.

There are days when not writing feels easier. When not telling the stories makes more sense. When just happily going along in my life, not rocking the boat, not making an impact is the safe answer. My words don’t have to be shared. They don’t have to be challenged or changed. Those words, those beautiful words, can stay safely in my head, right where they make sense and are almost perfect.

That’s the challenge isn’t it, on days like this? The challenge is to remember that the words are always meant to be shared. They are meant to be given to the world, not kept inside. The same thing that makes a person want to be a writer is the thing that keeps us from locking the words away inside ourselves. As frustrating and painful as the process of sharing those words is, it is something we simply cannot not do.

Beyond the fear

Is a beautiful release

As the stories we see

Become the words we read.

The silence of the blank page

Explodes into our private symphony

As all our hopes and dreams

Are revealed for the world to see.

So, as I look at the blank page and wonder what it means, I am encouraged to remember that the blank page isn’t a threat – it’s a promise that I can make the world my beautiful story. I can tell the facts and the fiction and make them make sense to the world.

Here’s to the writers!

My One Word 2014

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One word.

A new kind of resolution.

A promise to live life fully.

To be challenged.

To be changed.

For the last several years, I have pushed myself to find the One Word that would define my year. I have prayed over and thought about and reflected on my life to see where I had been and where I would go next. In 2013, my One Word was “Ready.” And boy, did 2013 challenge me to live up to that word. In every way, I was challenged to answer the call on my life as yes, I am READY instead of No, I don’t wanna…which is my normal reaction. When I faced a situation that made me a little frustrated or uncomfortable, I reminded myself that my One Word was READY and I needed to live up to that.

After several weeks of prayer and contemplation, I am ready to talk a little more about my ONE WORD for 2014. For the next 12 months, I want to look at my life through the lens of the word

Pursuit

In 2014, my life is going to look a little different. I have accepted the challenge to be part of the One Girl Retreat Leadership Team as serve as the conference director. Our theme for 2014 is In Pursuit, and once that was decided, the word has quickly become something that has become a mantra for my decisions. Life is about the pursuit – of God, of relationships and community, of a life that makes a difference. So, 2014 is based on Pursuit. My “theme verse” for this year’s journey is this: This is what the Lord says to Israel: Seek me and live. (Amos 5:4). So simple and yet so profound: seek me and live.

I have a not very unique ability to make life very complicated. I can over-think everything and look at it through a complicated lens of how it will affect everyone I have ever met. I can go through a hundred different situations and worries and end up doing nothing because there are too many variables (most of which I have created myself). I pursue everything to but most simple and freeing path possible: seek Him and live.

In 2014, I want to begin the process of living in Pursuit of this simple idea – to seek God in all I do and to find my life and joy in that pursuit. I will pursue a God who loves me so much that he chose to pursue me first. I will pursue a God who wants me to live a simple life in partnership with him. I will pursue a life that brings people closer to the real God I love, not the over-sensationalized and over-criticized version of Him that is everywhere these days. I will pursue a God who doesn’t want me to get complacent in my life and not pursue what is next. I want to live a life of excitement where my great pursuit is to simply seek Him. And in seeking Him, may I truly learn to live.